REUTERS NEWS SERVICE items:
*1. Bove convicted for GM food assault
*2. EU parliament voices support for biotechnology
*3. Europe must protect itself from genetically modified crops says German Farm Minister
1. Bove convicted for GM food assault
French rebel Bove convicted for GM food assault
FRANCE: March 16, 2001
MONTPELLIER, France - A French court handed rebel farm leader Jose Bove a 10-month suspended jail sentence on Thursday for destroying genetically modified rice plants during an assault on a research centre.
Bove, an anti-globalisation campaigner best known for trashing a McDonald's fast food restaurant, was found guilty with two others of leading a raid on the publicly funded centre in the southern town of Montpellier in June 1999.
He was also placed on probation for two years and ordered to pay substantial costs and damages in addition to a symbolic one franc to the laboratory.
"The courts in Montpellier have shown yet again that they are supporters of genetically modified food," Bove said. "The justice system has not understood a thing about the dangers that face us all."
Bove returned to France from Mexico for the verdict. He had joined Zapatista rebel leader Subcommander Marcos on his triumphal march on Mexico City.
The walrus-moustached sheep farmer, 47, has proudly admitted to spearheading the assault on the Cirad laboratory by some 100 protesters opposed to genetically modified food.
Laywers for the laboratory say the protest caused four million francs ($550,000) of damage.
Bove announced immediate plans on Thursday to appeal against the sentence, one of three hanging over him for protests that have propelled him to international prominence.
Opponents of GM crops fear they may spread modified genes, with the risk of harming insects and humans, and spur the creation of pesticide-resistant superweeds. Supporters say they are needed to develop hardier crop types to help feed the poor.
Bove, head of the Confederation Paysanne farmers' union, has skilfully mobilised radical farmers and tapped French prejudices against the United States and its fast food.
A court of appeal will rule on March 22 on a three-month jail sentence he received last year for ransacking the McDonald's diner in 1999 during a protest against "la malbouffe" (junk food) and U.S. tariffs on French cheese and foie gras.
The prosecution wants the jail term doubled. Bove wants it quashed but says he is not afraid to go to jail and will march there from his sheep farm if ordered behind bars.
The same court will also rule whether a lower chamber was right not to convict Bove and eight others for having locked up French farm ministry officials in an office during another protest in March 1999.
Bove's jovial style and fluent English, learned as a child while his parents studied at Berkeley, California, have helped him become a star at anti-globalisation protests from Seattle to Davos since the McDonald's incident.
He joined poor Brazilian farmers in January in uprooting rows of genetically modified soybeans at an experimental farm owned by U.S.-based Monsanto.
The prosecution at the Montpellier trial had sought a three-month jail sentence for Bove.
The Cirad centre argued that his protest was misguided because the laboratory has developed ways to trace altered genes in GM products. It says it provides an unbiased scientific view on GM foods and an alternative to company research.
Story by Nicolas Fichot
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
2. EU support for biotech
parliament voices support for biotechnology
FRANCE: March 16, 2001
STRASBOURG, France - The European Parliament declared support for biotechnology yesterday, but stopped short of calling for the European Union to lift its ban on new genetically modified (GM) food strains.
The parliament said in statement that genetic technologies were good for employment and could help the environment.
The non-binding resolution may give a rare morale boost to biotechnology firms, which still face an unofficial EU ban on most of their products due to concerns that genetically altered plants could contain hidden health or environment risks.
The parliament itself recently approved a tough new system for licensing new GM foods strains for use in the 15-country bloc.
The statement, drafted by British Conservative John Purvis and approved by a majority of EU deputies attending the assembly in Strasbourg, said the parliament "resolved to support the development of biotechnology in the European Union".
But the assembly deleted a paragraph criticising "government actions to delay authorisation of GM products for reasons not based on objective scientific opinion", which would have been a direct attack on the EU freeze on granting new GM licences.
The EU has not authorised any new GM strains since April 1998 pending new rules on testing and monitoring their effect on the environment.
Governments will re-consider the ban in the coming months once the final elements of the new regulatory system have been drafted by the EU's executive Commission.
The biotech industry may get more support next week when EU Enterprise Commissioner Erkki Liikanen presents a 10-year policy paper on biotechnology and life sciences to EU leaders at a summit in Stockholm.
Liikanen welcomed the parliament's "valuable input" into developing biotechnologies in the EU.
"Biotechnology has a very important role to play in fulfilling the commitment made (by the EU) to develop a competitive knowledge-based economy," he said in a statement.
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
3. Europe must protect itself from the threat of genetically modified crops
Think global, eat local, says German farm minister
GERMANY: March 16, 2001
HAMBURG - Europe must protect itself from the threat of genetically modified crops coming from the United States, German farm minister Renate Kuenast said in a newspaper article on the World Consumer Rights Day yesterday.
"While the U.S. grows genetically modified crops on near 30 million hectares, uses artificial hormones in cattle feed and performance-boosters in milk output, we in Europe oppose these on grounds of preventive consumer protection," Kuenast said.
Kuenast, a co-leader of Germany's ecologist Green party and farm minister in Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's Social Democrat-Green cabinet since January, wrote a full-page article in Germany's conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
The article, quoting thinkers and politicians from 18th century economist Adam Smith to former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, lashed out against falling quality standards in the food industry but also at consumers willing to accept those.
Kuenast, whose portfolio was renamed to Ministry for Consumer Protection, Food and Agriculture in the wake of the mad cow crisis which erupted in Germany last November, gave the most comprehensive account to date of her goals and beliefs.
She saw the two animal disease crises of mad cow and foot-and-mouth now engulfing Europe as a chance to steer away from industrial food production and promote more ecological, animal-friendly and sustainable farming.
"(The BSE crisis) marked not only the end of the post-war farm policy, but also raised consumer protection to the rank of of a prominent domestic policy issue," she said. Kuenast plans to lead the European Union's biggest farm industry towards "class instead of mass", as she outlined last month when presenting her farm policy reform, and is ready to fight for an overhaul of the EU's commmon agricultural policy.
"The growing value of consumer protection could help Europeans see their continent as the Europe of the people," she said, warning that the same people, foremost the Germans, must accept the higher price of increased safety and better quality.
"A four-person (German) household spent 45 percent of its income on food in 1950, now it is only 15 percent," she said. "Even food retailers admit that that led to a fall in quality."
She also said that the majority of European consumers opposed genetically modified crops, and a large-scale introduction of those would leave no choice to the continent.
"The interaction between genetically modified plants and the domestic flora are inevitable and irreversible," Kuenast said. "That would in fact take away the possibility of free choice."
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE